Facebook’s “Aquila” Drone Promises Worldwide Web Access

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It seems like drones are everywhere. From warfare and surveillance to agriculture and entertainment, all kinds of industries are finding uses for unmanned aircraft technology.  Even Facebook, the social media superpower, has been interested in creating its own drone for a while.

With Aquila, they’ve done just that. Mark Zuckerberg announced the completion of the solar-powered, internet-delivering, high-altitude Facebook drone just last week. As part of a mission to achieve global internet penetration, Aquila will fly for three months at a time transmitting data through a laser beam to areas without existing internet infrastructure. Based on prototype results, this drone, which has the wingspan of a Boeing 737, will be able to provide internet from up to 90,000 feet at 10 gigabits per second.

Sounds crazy, but Facebook’s Internet.org project, created to deliver “free basic internet services to hundreds of millions of people across Asia, Africa, and Latin America,” isn’t alone in its thinking. Google’s Project Loon is working on balloon networks located in the stratosphere, “designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters.”

Only about 40% of the world has internet access (check out this overview of Mckinsey & Company’s study on the global population’s web capabilities). That number gets larger every day, with global internet penetration jumping about 3% every year. So why are companies like Facebook so eager to speed up the process? Currently, Facebook serves about 1.5 billion users. Chances are, if you live in an area where the internet is widely used and you want a Facebook account, you already have one; so the number of new monthly users is in decline.  Most of the North American market, for example, is very near satiated. Facebook has to look elsewhere for new users and they are banking on the idea that more internet users means more people on Facebook. With about 70% of online adults using the social media platform, Internet.org is likely to pay off.

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